Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Beacon Street Girls: books to help teens lose weight

I'd love to see readers of this blog weigh in on this post by the usually savvy Tara Parker Pope in her Well blog at the New York Times. From the comments on the blog so far, most readers just ain't getting it. You can help. :-)


Anonymous said...

Mmm, Bacon Street.

... sorry, somebody had to say it.

Anonymous said...

Hi Harriet,

I just read your comment on the NY Times Wellness Blog, and thought it was very interesting. I agree with you that there is a huge danger in focusing children on their weight and "the dangers of obesity". But, I also wonder what types of things health educators CAN do to help young folks learn to embrace healthy lifestyles because of they will lead to improved well-being and health? I bet you have some thoughts about this. I'd love to hear them.

I am a motivational psychology researcher at the University of Michigan who focuses on how to help women make lasting behavioral changes within a culture that creates a very unhelpful and negative frame on these behaviors (because of the inherent focus on losing weight for self-objectifying reasons, etc.)

I'd enjoy being in contact with you and learning more about your perspective and work. I think we may share similar perspectives.

Michelle Segar, PhD, MPH
Institute for Research on Women and Gender

Founder, EssentialSteps

Anonymous said...

I'm not Harriet, but since you put this on a public blog...

Ms. Segar:

What type of lasting behavioral changes are you trying to help women make? I went to you website, and you seem to be targeting mid-life women who are wanting to lose weight. In my opinion that just feeds into the very "culture that creates a very unhelpful and negative frame on these behaviors" that you speak about in your response here.

While you can wrap it in all the sweet sounding words you want (lose weight for your health, so you can feel better about yourself) it comes down to making false assumptions. The first assumption is that fat=unhealthy. It does not.

The second assumption is that nobody can feel good about themselves if they are fat. I assure you, they can.

If you really want to help women make lasting behavioral changes, why not work with them towards building real self esteem that isn't predicated on what their bodies look like, or what the culture around them dictates as being acceptable?

And just so you know, I am not associated with this blog except as a reader. The views I've just expressed are my own, and not necessarily anybody else's, especically not this blog owner's.

Anonymous said...

Dear Ms. Seagar,

I am also not Harriet (and obviously cannot speak for her), however, this is a topic I deeply care mainly because of personal experience.

I have been the target of "positive advice" concerning my weight all my life. In my eyes this advice from well-meaning doctors, parents, teachers, and later friends and colleagues has been a major contributing factor to my almost life-long struggle for a positive body image, as well as to some rather disordered food and exercise related behaviors. I have learned from an early age on that a) it is wrong to follow internal body signals of hunger and satiety b) my body is faulty and needs to be changed by force. As a result I became first a binge eater, eating secretly and ashamed of myself because I did not dare to eat in public and then a chronic dieter. I have stayed in that cycle ever since, despite a now several-year-long effort to break it.
Based on my experiences, this is what I would want people and particularly professionals to do: 1.) Encourage all girls and women to feel their bodies and to feel good about them. Let them honor their hunger, regardless of weight. Never judge how much a person eats. If women and girls feel their body and feel safe to honor its signals without being judged they will also be more careful to respond to its needs. I am sure that I would still be fat (or "obese" if you prefer) if I had done this all my life (though maybe to a lesser degree). However, I would not display the psychological and physiological damaging behaviors I display now. 2.) Be aware of your stereotypes. In contrast to the general public opinion there are fat people who are quite athletic (though admittedly I am not of them). Many of us also know a good deal about nutrition and/or belong to a group tthat has chosen to eat in a way that people usually tend to associate with "thinness" such as vegetarian or vegan, homecooked, "slow", or local. 3.)Promote that fat people have a "right to move" - not a duty or an obligation and promote the joy of movement independent of weight-loss. I have been ridiculed (or, by the more well-meaning people, pitied) for engaging in physical activities I genuinely enjoy such as swimming or dancing so many times in my life that it is a really big effort for me to bring up the courage and try again. Create spaces where people of all sizes can move joyfully without being judged, and without having weight-loss mentioned to them. (Mentioning weight-loss to me in such a space means that I will have thoughts of how disgusting I am and how I should stop eating altogether running through my head. It also means that I will either avoid the space in the future or that I will become overcompetitive to show that I am not lazy.)
4.) Be aware that fat people (just as thin people) sometimes restrict food to a degree that is unhealthy or overexercise - I have done both, and I gained nothing but praise for it (or at least for the results). It is really hard to abstain from these behaviors if the world praises you for them.
5.) Ideally, become weight neutral and start to advocate Health at Every Size. That weight or body fat might become a health problem at some level (and it is frankly unknown at which level this might be the case for a given individual) does not change that there is no safe way for the majority of people to lose weight and keep it off. There are, however, a number of behaviors that are both healthful and fun and that one can engage in regardless of size.

Anonymous said...

Oh, and as far as books for girls/ adolescents in general are concerned: Why not just create great stories with characters that don't fit the typical stereotypes? I remember how thrilled I was when I came across a fat character who was actually good at sports. I would have loved the character even more if it would have been a girl...

Anonymous said...

I just have to delurk now.
Please, let kids be kids. Seriously, they should be taught to listen to their bodies, or rather, they should be allowed to keep that ability. Yesterday, I had a 3-year-old boy tell me that I wasn't allowed to eat because "women only eat salad". And I weigh 115 lbs. at 5'6''. Are those the lessons we want our kids to internalize? I don't think so.
One day, when I have kids, I'll do the same thing I did yesterday. I'll order steak AND a baked potatoe AND dessert when I want one and I'll stop when I'm full. Then I'll tell them that books like that one are for miserable people dieting their brain cells away.